Spotlight: SANAA

Founded in 1995 by architects Kazuyo Sejima (born 29 October 1956) and Ryue Nishizawa (born 7 February 1966), SANAA is world-renowned for its white, light buildings grounded in the architects’ Japanese cultural origins. Despite the white exteriors, their architecture is far from modernist; the constant incorporation of ambiguity and doubt in SANAA’s buildings is refreshing and playful, taking the reflective properties of glass and brightness of white to a new level.

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Courtesy of SANAA

Before founding SANAA, Sejima graduated with a Masters Degree in architecture from Japan Women’s University in 1981, going on to work at Toyo Ito and Associates before establishing Kazuyo Sejima and Associates in 1987. Sejima was subsequently named the Japan Institute of Architects’ Young Architect of the Year in 1992. Nishizawa was hired to work at Kazyuo Sejima and Associates after graduating from Yokohama National University in 1990, and together they founded SANAA in 1995. Two years later, Nishizawa founded Ryue Nishizawa and Associates, and as such the architects describe SANAA as being made up of three firms, coming together to discuss and critique ideas.

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Louvre Lens / SANAA. Image © Julien Lanoo

The two architects were the second to win the Pritzker Prize as a duo, in 2010. Capturing what SANAA's architecture represents, the Pritzker jury stated that "they explore like few others the phenomenal properties of space, lightness, transparency and materiality to create a subtle synthesis." Sejima has also commented on the firm’s consistent use of the color white as a method to avoid a hierarchy in their architecture, bringing light everywhere instead of being intensified in certain spaces. Their democratic diffusion and circulation of light also reflects on their aim to create feelings of continuity and community in public spaces, evident in Grace Farms, which won the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize for 2014/2015.

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New Museum / SANAA. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

This layered translucence and unclear boundaries between spaces can be seen in many of their famous works, including the Louvre-Lens Museum, completed in 2012; the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, completed in 2007; and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan. These public areas also demonstrate SANAA’s ability to construct spaces that people can enjoy together, while still taking part in individual programs.

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The 2009 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion / SANAA. Image © Iwan Baan

Check out more completed works by SANAA as well as the individual firms of Sejima and Nishizawa in the thumbnails below, as well as more coverage on the firm after those:

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Pritzker Ceremony / SANAA

SANAA's Grace Farms Wins the 2014/2015 Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize

Kazuyo Sejima Explains the Influence of Light and the Color White in SANAA's Work

Iwan Baan on Light and the Louvre Lens

Cloud-Shaped Pavilion is SANAA's Latest Work in Naoshima

Kazuyo Sejima's Sumida Hokusai Museum in Tokyo Photographed by Laurian Ghinitoiu

Video: Louvre-Lens / SANAA

SANAA's Zollverein School of Management and Design Photographed by Laurian Ghinitoiu

The Berlage Archive: Kazuyo Sejima (2002)

Watch SANAA's Grace Farms Come to Life in this Time Lapse

Video: Shibaura House by Kazuyo Sejima

Video: Teshima Art Museum / Office of Ryue Nishizawa

SANAA Selected to Design Hungary's New National Gallery - Ludwig Museum

How Chilean Architects Are Helping Realize Ryue Nishizawa's Curving Concrete Cliffside House

About this author
Cite: Ariana Zilliacus. "Spotlight: SANAA" 29 Oct 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Grace Farms / SANAA. Image © Dean Kaufman


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